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In what the prosecutor says might be the first case of its kind, a California Highway Patrol officer has been convicted of a hate crime. Four counts, no less.
Seth Taylor, 35, pleaded guilty on Friday to four misdemeanor counts of disturbing the peace, admitting in each case special allegations that the offenses were hate crimes. A judge dismissed a fifth misdemeanor charge, attempted criminal threat, that upon conviction would have prohibited Taylor from possessing a firearm. That would have effectively ended his CHP career. He is assigned to administrative work pending a review by the CHP.
Taylor was sentenced to three years of probation, and must attend an eight-hour course offered by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles that is geared toward people convicted of hate crimes. He also must complete 50 hours of community service. Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen Wold says she hasn’t heard of another police officer in the United States who has been convicted of a hate crime, although it’s not something she has researched.
Taylor, who is white, was off duty from his job in the CHP’s Ventura office in 2007 when each of the two incidents occurred that led to charges. The first involved two Hispanic men at a bar. Taylor told the men to “go back south of the border,” according to Wold. The men argued, and Taylor put his thumb and forefinger in the shape of a gun, simulated pulling the trigger and told one of the men he was going to “put a cap” in him, authorities said. The incident wasn’t reported and didn’t come to authorities’ attention until a second racial confrontation involving Taylor occurred in December 2007.
That clash began in a hotel where a group of CHP officers and a group associated with a nonprofit healthcare organization called Clinicas del Camino Real held separate parties in adjacent rooms that shared a bar. Witnesses said that people at the CHP party thought members of the Hispanic group were gang-bangers intent on eating their food and dancing with their women, Wold says.
Taylor approached Clinicas employee Rudy Diaz and asked him, “Where are you from?” Diaz replied, “The United States of America.” Taylor then mumbled anti-Hispanic slurs, Wold says. Diaz is 52 years old, has two master’s degrees and “is not a confrontational guy,” she adds.
Then Taylor confronted another Hispanic man who witnessed the encounter with Diaz. “I will not bow down to spics. I will take them all on,” witnesses heard him yell, according to Wold. Taylor then had to be restrained by fellow officers from fighting the second man, she adds.
Because of the hate-crime element, the district attorney could have charged Taylor with felonies, Wold says. The office decided not to because he had no prior criminal record and there was no physical contact since Taylor was restrained by others.
“The message I think this sends is we treat everybody the same way,” Wold says. “It’s not illegal to be a racist. It is illegal to commit a crime because of a person’s perceived race or ethnicity.”